For Care Experienced Week 2019, the Care Review’s Laura Beveridge reflects on how her views have been shaped through her personal and professional experience of care.
If you asked me a few years ago about what to do about the care system in Scotland I would have said rip it out from the roots and start again.
I would have said that because the people who had cared for me had far more control over my life than I did.
The people in and around my family needed help and support but there was no help in sight. The system was made up of placements and people that would be with me until such a time that they decided to let me go into the big world – whether I was ready to or not.
I have always said that I wanted to help change the system. It’s been a life’s work for so many of us that have lived, worked and campaigned.
The thing that I had forgotten along the way, until now through my work with the Independent Care Review, is that there isn’t a simple quick fix through legislation or a government initiative or time limited campaign.
The care system is not a thing like a car that can be given a quick MOT or repair.
Care is about people and every one of us, including me, needs to change the way we think about care and the way we go about making an impact on the life chances of those coming through the ‘system’.
It’s about relationships
As a child living away from my mum, I would have said “Just let me go home!” but if I had been sent home my relationship with my mum would have further deteriorated unless there was people there to take the time to understand us, providing care led by us.
There isn’t a quick fix, it’s about listening and learning together as a family, with the support of the professionals involved.
Ultimately it’s about relationships.
When I was separated from my brother and sister I would have said “Just move us all into the one house and we will be okay.” but it wasn’t that simple.
I would have struggled to share my caring responsibilities with anyone else and would likely have battled with our carer. It takes time to support a family and understand what is truly needed for a return home or staying together.
Where stigma flourishes
Recently, I was so moved by a young person’s bravery to speak about bullying that was happening in their school, against children with experience of care.
For those that haven’t been in care, it must be hard to imagine the circumstances that lead a child to being removed from their home.
For a child to be taken into care the risk of harm must be significant.
It breaks my heart to hear that young people are still facing the same stigma that is still very alive today.
The problem is that it can be all too easy to look for someone to blame. I was blamed for being a bad kid and my mum was blamed for being a bad parent.
That is where stigma flourishes.
What could be possible?
What was needed then, and what we still need now for every child or person with experience of care is greater understanding.
My dream was to work in the care system because I wanted to help change it for the better.
I was met with many barriers, both practices and attitudes. When I started working in residential care I was told “Don’t get too close” or “You cannot hug a child” because the system didn’t allow it, and systems were often to blame for the barriers.
I had the privilege of caring for the most amazing young people. Young people with courage and the greatest hearts I’ve ever known.
Growing up in a family that has issues is hard but it taught me how to read a room, to sense if someone is angry or sad, and I knew when to speak and when to keep quiet.
Of course this is not a healthy way to grow up and if we’re counting Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) I would score quite high, BUT I’ve gained so much learning, that I have been able to share with many young people I’ve met along the way.
I don’t view a young person with a deficit lens, I look at their strengths and what could be possible.
Imagine if we always looked first for strengths and possibilities in our children and the services and people that support them?
I have so much respect for people working in and around care to support families, infants, children and young people.
Life can change very quickly growing up in a family that is struggling. It’s how I learned how to adapt.
The sad thing is that children taken into care often have to continue adapting when they should be allowed time to heal, time to be understood, and time to be given the love they need from the significant people around them.
Most people working in care are doing it because they want to be there for children and young people, they want to improve things and ultimately make Scotland the best place to grow up.
To understand what the solutions are we need to listen, to look at the bigger picture and potential impact, otherwise we will not create something that will stick.
When I joined the Independent Care Review I owned my own personal bias and admitted that there were parts of the care system that I hated.
Parts of the care system had hurt me and many children and their families over the years, although well-meaning decisions were made and knee-jerk reactions happened during crisis.
The reality was that there were devastating unintended consequences, one of which resulted in the death of my friend.
I know all too well the human cost when care goes wrong.
Because we care
In joining the Independent Care Review I’ve been given a unique opportunity to be led entirely be the voices of care experienced people.
The Care Review’s independence has enabled really honest conversations with those living in care now, adults with experience of care and the custodians of Scotland’s care system.
If you had told me before the Care Review that I would be working alongside unlikely allies I would never have believed it.
But systemic change can’t be done because of just one voice, one organisation; we are all in this together and it is the people that are truly invested that will make the biggest difference – because we care.
Please come with us on this Journey.
About the author
Laura Beveridge is co-chair of the Independent Care Review’s Stop:Go work group.
Having both lived, worked and campaigned for change in the care system, Laura’s work at the Care Review is very close to her heart.
Laura has over 13 years’ experience working in partnership with care experienced children and young people and firmly believes they should have more power and control over their own lives.
Laura has always loved writing and has written a number of articles, including for a column at Holyrood magazine.